Not just Museum Night. We open museums at night all the time, all year round!

Museum Night, held this weekend, showed that there is a lot of public eager to go to museums in the evening. So why not always open them in the evening, at least once a week? One could go to the museum just as one goes to the movies.

It is not so much the numbers that give an idea of the phenomenon: it is people’s comments that give us the clearest evidence of what Museum Night was. True, there are the “record-breaking” figures, to use an expression dear to those who are used to evaluate mostly the quantitative aspect of the event: in the municipal museums of Rome alone there were seventy thousand visitors who, from 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 14 to 2 a.m. on Sunday, May 15, crowded the open cultural spaces. Ten thousand more people than in the last edition, the one in 2019: the fact that the influxes are beginning to outpace the so-called “pre-Covid period” with great momentum is the most palpable indication of the public’s desire to take back cultural venues. Numbers, sure, are important. But they are not everything: perhaps, it is even more important to record what the public thinks, the feelings that visitors, especially citizens, feel when faced with the possibility of visiting museums in the evening.

Illuminating in this regard is a report aired on TG3 Toscana, which is very useful for understanding, even from just a few lines, the tenor of what people who live in cities and would like to experience their museums more think: “After the aperitif we came to see the museum.” “Spending Saturday night talking about culture instead of being in other places in the city is special.” “It’s good to see the kids, the young people.” “Useful to do these evenings precisely because in our city we don’t come to see these things, but with these opportunities, even at popular prices, maybe you come willingly.” Four comments, snatched on the fly from some people in the queue at Tuscan museums, from which, however, we glean many of the reasons why so many fail to visit museums as much as they would like to, and why it would be useful if structural openings could be provided in the evenings.

It needs to be strongly reiterated: our museums, in most cases, have hours that are often hostile to the local public. That very large segment of the population that studies or works during the day and is therefore busy from eight in the morning to five or six at night, is excluded from most museums, which practice opening hours designed mainly for schoolchildren (who can visit them without any problems every morning) or tourists (who have no hours), and is forced to visit them on Saturdays or Sundays. It is true that the flows of many museums are composed mostly of tourists, perhaps because they insist on small realities, and for these institutions it might therefore be more convenient to keep the doors closed in the evening and maximize tourist flows in the morning: however, providing at least one evening opening a week could be an interesting, useful and valuable incentive to bring local communities closer to the museum. And perhaps to spur them to repeated returns.

Il Colosseo
The Colosseum

On a side note, forms of subscriptions could also be envisaged, to allow local audiences to return again and again, for a wide variety of reasons, some of which were listed by the visitors stopped by TG3: it could be a simple stroll among works of art after an aperitif (and how nice it would be if museums all over Italy became a garrison of sociability!), or it could be a short visit to focus on a single work or a specific theme, or even to visit an exhibition having the possibility to devote the whole evening to it, and not the last remnant of half an hour before closing.

There are museums in Italy where evening opening has long since become structural. In Milan, at the Palazzo Reale, Thursday is the traditional evening visitation day, when the doors close at 10:30 pm. In Florence, Palazzo Strozzi opens on Thursdays until 11 p.m. Three extra hours of opening for the Mart in Rovereto on Fridays, that is, until 9 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. as on other days. However, these are very few cases: most other museums have prohibitive closing times for those who cannot visit during working hours. And while there are still many museums that close at 7 or 8 p.m. (and thus allow perhaps a half-hour or hour-long walk after work), there are many others that close well before 7 p.m.

These are topics that have been discussed before on these pages: in three years, however, the situation has not changed. There are many reasons holding back a change that could really rewrite the history of Italian museums. In the first place, it is a question of lack of personnel and allocation of resources: right now, opening in the evening would be considered extraordinary, and if one thinks that there are so many museums where it is not possible to open on Sundays precisely because of staff shortages, the thought of being able to open in the evening in some of our cultural places takes on the connotations of a naive illusion. However, just as action was taken in 2015 to make museums part of essential public services with the stated idea of limiting inconvenience to visitors, in the same way, in order to expand the service, action could be taken to change working hours. It is then a problem of mentality: the museum is still thought of primarily as a place for tourists, and as a result it is difficult to change the status quo by thinking that our cultural places can also be frequented by different audiences at different times. And not just for one night a year.

The competition for the 1,052 “fruition, reception and supervision assistants” that has just ended and will see new forces arriving in the ministry’s ranks soon, with fresh, young and motivated staff, could be that useful spur to trigger a real change that will bring museums to be much closer to the local public. There is certainly no call to open every night. But even a single day a week with extended opening hours could be an innovation, in a small way, revolutionary: to offer the public a new service, to reach different audiences, to make museums become places of aggregation. We could imagine a future in which going to the museum after dinner, or after an aperitif, will become a bit like going to the cinema. It will, of course, take in-depth analysis of audience flows and habits to better calibrate the offer. But the exorbitant numbers of Museum Night show that there is a wide potential. And the comments of those who participated in the evening openings of this special weekend demonstrate the enthusiasm of the public, the desire to have more such occasions, the need to return to those places that have been denied us by the pandemic containment measures. The moment is favorable to start a serious discussion on the issue.

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